An Education and Outreach Program for Local Governments, Utilities and Community Organizations Empowering Citizens to Conserve Natural Resources and Protect the Environment

“The Green Living Program has demonstrated results and can make a real difference. In our work with communities across America this is exactly the sort of tool for which they are searching.”
– Molly Olson, executive director,
 President’s Council on Sustainable Development

The Green Living Program will assist you in translating your desire to do the right thing into a program of environmental action that will make a difference.

Americans as 5 percent of the world’s population consume 25 percent of the planet’s resources and waste up to 75 percent due to inefficiency and lack of awareness. Households directly consume one third of these resources, and indirectly use much of the rest through the purchase of products and services.

How we live is a big part of the problem. It can also be a big part of the solution if we adopt more environmentally sustainable lifestyles. That means exercising more care, or stewardship, in our use of the Earth’s finite resources (trees, water, energy, minerals, land) to ensure that there will be enough left for our children and their children.


Households play an essential role in the creation of more environmentally sustainable communities. Between 50 and 90 percent of a community’s natural resources are used at the household level with up to 75 percent of these resources wasted through inefficiency and lack of awareness. Households are also a major source of a community’s environmental pollution through auto emissions and toxic chemicals entering the groundwater. In most communities, the financial burden of this inefficiency and environmental pollution falls on municipalities as the primary accountable party responsible for providing services such as water, water treatment, landfills, roads and environmental quality.

In today’s fiscal climate, local governments have less money than ever before to provide these essential services to the community. Short of raising taxes or reducing services—not politically feasible in most communities—the only alternative is being more cost-effective. One of the major opportunities for cost containment is helping citizens better steward the community’s natural resources. Developing a demand-side management approach is all the more critical in communities experiencing rapid population growth.

With these incentives, municipalities are motivated to help citizens develop lifestyle practices that conserve natural resources and protect the environment. Citizens are generally willing to cooperate, but have a hard time changing ingrained habits. Traditional methods used by municipalities—information and financial incentives—while achieving awareness and some behavior change, are not adequate for helping people change lifelong habits. And they are not tapping the enormous potential for resource savings that citizens are willing and able to achieve. Municipalities need new tools to enable voluntary citizen behavior change.



The Green Living Program is simple and strategic. Five to eight neighborhood households—an EcoTeam—meet seven times over a four-month period, with the help of a step-by-step workbook. Choosing from a series of practical actions, the team supports one another to reduce water, energy use and waste, buy green products, reduce air and water pollution, and encourage other neighbors to get involved. More than increasing awareness, the Green Living Program enables people to change the way they live—measurably.


Depending on the community, participants in the Green Living Program achieve the following average resource savings per year:

  • 41%-51% less garbage sent into the waste stream
  • 25%-34% less water used
  • 9%-17% less energy used
  • 8% reduction in vehicle miles traveled
  • 16%-20% less fuel used for transportation
  • 15% fewer CO2 emissions
  • $227-$389 saved through more efficient use of resources

 Direct financial savings.

Substantial financial savings are possible by serving more people, over longer periods of time, delaying the need for new landfills, roads and utilities to be built and operated.

• Enhance community environmental quality.

Communities will be cleaner, safer, and provide higher quality places to live through reduced air and water pollution, fewer problems with toxic and hazardous substances and less traffic congestion.

Promote existing environmental programs.

The Green Living Program can contribute to increasing participation and awareness in environmental programs communities have already substantially invested in.

• Build community and social capital at the neighborhood level.

People meet their neighbors and begin acting as a community, often for the first time, strengthening the fabric of the community. Neighborhood relationships are reinforced and enhance the capacity of citizens to take responsibility for helping themselves and one another.

• Educate individuals within the community.

Expanding environmental literacy and building a citizenry that is environmentally motivated.

• Increase local government revenues.

As Mayor Donald Fraser of Minneapolis observed, “The Green Living Program demonstrates success… (It) can help change behavior so that the buses and trains are full of paying passengers.”

• Local economic growth

Builds consumer demand for environmentally sustainable products and services so that it is economically profitable for businesses to meet this demand. This leads to growth in employment, business revenues, personal earnings and tax revenues.  

• Improve the relationship between local government and its citizens.

By building active working partnerships with citizens to recycle, ride share, and conserve resources, the Green Living Program can be a powerful force to strengthen the relationship between local government and the community.

• Start a process to catalyze citizen participation in creating a sustainable community.

Progress toward the interdependent goals of prosperity, social equity, environmental protection, governmental efficiency and a higher quality of life can be sustained for generations to come.



A tool enabling municipal decision-makers and citizens to evaluate how sustainably the community is using its natural resources. 


What benefits are associated with a Sustainable Lifestyle Campaign (SLC)?

This campaign attracts financial resources from government agencies and private utilities that are invested in educating citizens to better steward the community’s natural resources. This benefits the citizens, local government, the environment, neighborhoods and the overall livability of the community. Many of these benefits are brought together at the block level. As neighbors work together they build more socially cohesive, safer and healthier blocks to live on. Whenever possible, neighborhood visioning processes are held in which citizens who have been on EcoTeams work side-by-side with municipal officials, using the program to determine what’s needed to create more livable neighborhoods. A final benefit is the development of citizenship skills. Many of these campaigns begin or are sustained because citizens lobby their local government officials and encourage them to fund it. Local governments experience citizens doing the right thing. Citizens discover they do make a difference.

How does the SLC conserve natural resources and reduce waste?

The program is designed to help households systematically evaluate their environmental impact, learn of actions they can take to lower it, set up a support group to help them follow-through on the choices they make, and provide feedback to positively reinforce the benefits of the actions taken so they are sustained over time.

What size community is affected by an SLC?.

The Green Living Program works at the block level with groups of five to eight households called an EcoTeam. A campaign is designed to grow and eventually impact larger and larger numbers of community residents through applying a growth model know as “social diffusion.” This model was developed by a Stanford University social science researcher through observation of the diffusion of innovations in over 1,500 case studies. The Sustainable Lifestyle Campaign starts with households and neighborhoods that are naturally attracted to this innovation called “early adopters” — approximately 15 percent of a population. This is designed to create a groundswell so that the program can start diffusing on its own momentum and achieve deeper program participation. The campaign cultivates this phenomenon within neighborhoods and amongst neighborhoods and has seen deep diffusion occur quite regularly at the block and neighborhood level.

Does the program reach a unique population?

The population reached is a broad cross-section of the community. Over 80 percent of residents approached by neighbors are interested in attending the neighborhood information meeting. About half actually come and about 75 percent of those attending, join teams. This boils down to approximately one out of every four people approached by a neighbor participating in the program. The program and recruitment model has proven very successful in middle income neighborhoods. The program requires modification and extra resources to work in low income neighborhoods but with these adjustments has been successful.

Are jobs, industries, business opportunities created by an SLC?

Sustainable Lifestyle Campaigns strengthen the green businesses of the community by generating new customers.

Does the SLC reduce costs or improve efficiency?

It helps local governments reduce costs of delivering essential services. It helps individuals reduce costs in managing their households.

What specific economic benefits result from the program and who benefits?

Residents of the community benefit by saving money and local government agencies often reduce the costs of delivering services or infrastructure and see increased participation in revenue producing activities such as public transportation.

Does an SLC apply existing resources or develop new tools to address a problem?

The program is a new tool that is directed at the efficient use of existing resources—natural and financial. The program enables local governments to use financial resources, that often go into expanding infrastructure, to be used more cost-effectively by enabling households to develop resource-efficient behaviors that reduce the need for landfill space, water resources, energy resources, road size and rebuilding and health costs through reduced air pollution. Overall it helps the community develop both a practical demand-side management approach and conservation ethic.

Can the SLC be replicated in other communities with similar challenges?

This program is designed for replication. It has been used in many different size communities—urban, suburban and rural—in over thirty states. It is flexible enough so it can be customized to the unique situation of each community.

How does the SLC further sustainability?

By helping citizens conserve natural resources, it enables local governments to better steward the community’s natural resources. In certain cases this reduces the costs for service delivery and forestalls new infrastructure expenses. It helps households save money through resource efficiency, approximately $200–300 per-household per-year. This serves as the equivalent of a yearly tax rebate and economic stimulus for the households and communities participating in the program. It creates an environmentally literate populace and encourages advocacy for sustainable community development policies and programs. The program builds leadership, empowerment and community-building skills within the community’s neighborhoods.

Does the SLC contribute to long-term economic renewal and growth?

By helping the community better manage its natural resources and improve its environmental quality it becomes a more attractive place to live and work thus attracting and retaining businesses and improving its tax-base. By strengthening neighborhoods and making them more attractive it reduces migration out of the community, particularly in larger cities. By increasing the efficiency of citizens’ natural resource use it defers the cost of major infrastructure projects (i.e. water treatment, landfills) thus making these funds available for other projects of community development.

Does success of the SLC depend on on-going cooperation among diverse groups?

Yes. This program brings all sectors of the community, as well as various local government agencies and private utilities, together in a common effort. Through this, much dialogue, learning and cooperation occur. This process of working together creates the commitment that keeps all the parties involved for the long-term.

Does the SLC protect one sector without subjecting others to hazards?

Yes. The program is designed to help any part of the community that participates with no negative outcomes in any other part. In fact, it spreads positive outcomes to other parts of the community through serving as a role model for the benefits of the program.

Does the SLC provide financial incentives to pursue environmentally sound practices?

The program itself offers a financial incentive by helping households save money through resource-efficient living. The money saved we call an “ignorance tax” that they no longer have to pay. Also, whenever possible, campaign funding partners provide financial incentives for households to experiment with new environmental behaviors through opportunities such as free transit passes and reduced costs for compost bins.

Does the program address a community health concern?

The principal health impacts are on air and water quality. The program’s transportation and energy actions help improve overall air quality and reduce ground-level ozone. The program’s water quality actions help reduce nonpoint-source pollution of the community’s water bodies.

Does the program work with collaborative planning and consensus-building?

Collaborative planning and consensus-building are how EcoTeam participants determine which actions they are going to do together. These tools help the various government agency and private utility financial partners work together to achieve their individual goals within the context of a community-wide campaign. The program also brings citizens together with local government in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration for actively addressing the challenges of developing a sustainable community.

What makes the program innovative?

The program empowers citizens to successfully and voluntarily lower their environmental impact. It enables local and state government agencies to effectively help citizens change behavior that adversely impacts the environment. The program’s replicability combined with the ability to customize it to each municipality and client also make it innovative. The program both improves the environment and generates social capital that can be reinvested in the neighborhood and community at-large.

What measures do you use to determine effectiveness?

The principal measures are natural resource savings, EcoTeam formation, number of neighborhoods and blocks in which program is delivered, government agency information or services used by residents, and cost-benefit analysis per government agency investor.

What lessons have you learned in implementing the Sustainable Lifestyle Campaign?

Good ideas are hard to come by, but even harder is the effort necessary to perfect a good idea. To be effective one needs, among other things, to develop a learning organization. For Empowerment Institute this has been done by carefully de-briefing program participants, staff and clients. Households who go through the program are debriefed in their final meeting. Community program staff are carefully debriefed in regular coaching calls. Campaign staff debrief and support one another in “master classes” which also solve common challenges. Regular discussions take place with clients to explore ways to better accomplish our mutual goals.



A Sustainable Lifestyle Campaign leader certification is based on Empowerement Institute’s Social Change 2.0 community organizing framework. As part of the certification, you will learn how to facilitate an empowerment training, provide empowerment coaching, and use the Social Change 2.0 framework, strategies and skills to architect a transformational community intervention. You will also receive the Sustainable Lifestyle Campaign training scripts, organizing templates and guidance on how to customize the campaign to the unique needs of your community and project.

Green Living Program


The Sustainable Lifestyle Campaign is an education and outreach program to assist local governments, utilities and community-based organizations in implementing the Green Living Program. Empowerment Institute offers Social Change 2.0 community organizing leadership certification focused on implementation of the Sustainable Lifestyle Campaign and a customized community training.


Journey for the Planet
A Kid’s Five Week Adventure to Create an Earth-friendly Life

Journey for the Planet is a children’s version of Green Living Program for kids 8 to 12 years old. This program can be delivered in a classroom, after-school club, youth organization or for children of adults taking part in an EcoTeam. It is complemented by a twenty-six-lesson plan educator’s curriculum called the “Coach’s Guide.” Empowerment Institute offers a Journey for the Planet teacher certification.


To learn more about the Social Change 2.0 framework and research underpinning the Green Living Program see Social Change 2.0


“The program offers a common sense approach to environmentalism. [One participant says] ‘I love our neighborhood and this is an opportunity for us to make it an even nicer place to live together.’”
– The Boston Globe